This week, Boom Studios offered the first issue of the new miniseries Hexed for free online on the same day the print edition went on sale, a stunt they pulled off last year with Northwind. Northwind sold well and validated the notion that people will pay for a print edition even if the comic is available for free on the internet. Waid explains the current promotion in a video before the comic, and he talks a bit about the Northwind experience in this interview with ICv2.
A couple of print comic publishers have experimented with offering free content online, but they tend to hedge their bets and only put the first 10 or 12 pages up. Boom is offering the entire four-issue miniseries. With that in mind, I decided to look at how the first issue works as a webcomic. I haven’t been a big fan of Boom’s books in the pastâ€”they’re just not to my tasteâ€”but one thing I noticed right away was that Hexed seems to be pretty readable. One big problem with print comics is that their vertical pages don’t fit well onto my horizontal computer screen, and that’s true here, but it’s mitigated by the fact that the artist, Emma Rios, tends to divide the page into halves or thirds, so it’s easy to scroll through. Although the story is told in first person, mostly the main character’s interior monologue, the writing is concise, so the page isn’t cluttered with a million tiny text boxes. And the art is clear and linear, so it’s easy to grasp the gestures in each panel. The colors are absolutely lovely, and they probably look better on a backlit computer screen than on a printed page.
The deeper question is whether Hexed passes what I think of as “the Zuda test”: by the end of this first issue, do I know what’s going on and do I care about what happens next? Yes and no. The basic outline of the story is pretty clear: Luci Jenifer Inacio das Neves, a.k.a. Lucifer, is a supernatural thief who uses magical methods to steal special objects for clients on demand. She works for the owner of a fancy art gallery, but in this first issue, a shadowy figure from her past shows up to demand she perform a theft for him as repayment for skipping out on a previous job. Fair enough. But the most interesting part of the storyâ€”the details of the theftsâ€”is left hazy. Her first job is a pair of angel’s wings, and I would have liked to know why they were stolen, what was going to happen to them, and what the exploding Beanie Baby had to do with any of it. It looks like the story just moves on from there. The second job is even more enigmatic; it’s not at all clear what she is stealing, although her means of getting to it is startling (it involves climbing atop the corpse of a fat man). I thought maybe this was something that people involved in the occult would know about, but Google turned up nothing. So the biggest problem at the moment is that too much of the book is still in the writer’s head. Still, I thought the creators passed the test in that they gave me enough information to grasp the story and want to know more.
As for the interface, well, it’s MySpace, which doesn’t do well as a webcomics site. The comic is hard to find if you don’t have a direct link, although the load time has improved since the last time I was there. At best, though, it’s generic. If Boom is really going to do this right, they should put a bit of thought into designing a nice space on their own site, with areas for a summary, artist information, feedback, and maybe even suggestions for other titles. But maybe the point is not to do this rightâ€”I suppose the peril of making the user experience too satisfying is that the comics would become webcomics first and foremost. MySpace is a good way to reach a lot of peopleâ€”I get thatâ€”but the fact that in two weeks it will be impossible to find this comic again without scrolling through a million Cup o’Joe entries and slivers of superhero comics may be incentive enough to buy the book. Who knows, maybe that’s part of the plan.
Anyway, it’s worth hunting down Hexed while it’s still on the front page. I liked the art and the story was engaging enough to make me want to read the next issue, even if I have to navigate MySpace to do it.